Monday, October 11, 2010

Marks of Good Humor, Part 6

Drumroll, please...the Tom & Jerry clip I posted a few weeks ago I classified as...

Good humor.

Okay. I can see some of you smiling. And you want to know--why is that?

The answer is simple: Because it’s not real.

But didn’t I say that one of the marks of good fiction is that it’s true—that it conforms to reality?

I did. And I would say it is humor’s non-reality that allows it to conform to that very standard: through exaggeration we begin to see the reality of the situation that we might not want to recognize otherwise and the truth being conveyed by the humor.

Let’s face it—a cat playing a piano like Tom isn’t realistic. Or that a mouse could play the end of Liszt’s “Hungarian Rhapsody” with only two broken hammers from the same piano. Yet it rings true because of the attitudes displayed: Tom’s annoyance at Jerry; Jerry’s determination to outplay Tom; Tom’s panic over maintaining appearances, even going to ridiculous extremes to pull it off.

Each of these attitudes, and resulting actions, are very real. In fact, we all can recognize ourselves in these things. (Anyone out there have a competitive streak? Have concerns over appearances?) But none of us are insulted because the ridiculousness of the situation. And with it seeming so far from our “real” world—after all, we aren’t that bad—we open ourselves to learn the lesson of the scene.

So I would define another mark of good humor as exaggeration: it mirrors reality in a manner so extreme or absurd that we would be crazy ourselves to be insulted by the truth reflected.

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